When I originally decided that I was going to study abroad in Chile, I knew that I would have an eternally long winter break. At the end of last semester as I was saying my goodbyes, friends would ask, “So when do you leave?” Upon hearing my reply, February 10, I was often greeted with “Wow. What are you going to do with yourself?” In my mind, I’d have no trouble filling up the nearly two months of my time at home with days spent at the library reading about Chile and practicing my Spanish. While a noble thought, this plan lasted for about a week. Though I have been learning a lot about Chile, it’s been at a leisurely pace. So after all of my friends from home had returned to their respective universities or jetted off to their study abroad destinations, I found myself sitting on my couch twiddling my thumbs. (Contrary to popular belief, there is a limit of the number of episodes of Jon and Kate Plus Eight one can endure in a 24-hour period.)
The problem with thumb-twiddling is that it generally leads to thinking about how I’m leaving (relatively) soon for a country I’ve never been to and will live with a family with whom I’m going to need to communicate. This generally leads me to turn on Telemundo for kicks and to see how much I understand, which then leads to my frantic search through my English-Spanish dictionary for the word chantaje, assuming it must be something important because the women on Telemundo keep using it. As it turns out, it means “blackmail.” Then I start to think about all of the other words I don’t know that I will have to use on a daily basis. Then I look up “fork” because I can’t remember it (tenedor, apparently). Then I start to panic because I’m supposed to be taking university-level courses in Chile and I don’t even know how to talk about place settings.
To put an end to my frantic obsession with WordReference.com I decided to volunteer at the local hospital. Though it’s a nice way for me to pass the time, it presents a whole different set of panic-inducing problems. Most of the other volunteers are older ladies who like to chat, which is great. They want to know all about me and what I’m doing so I tell them how I’ll be studying abroad. Then the questions start.
“Have you ever been to Chile before?”
“Do you know anything about it?”
“Are you going with your friends?”
“You don’t know anyone else?”
“Do you speak Spanish?”
“Do you speak Chilean Spanish? I’ve heard it has a lot of slang and it’s almost like a different language.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“Five months?! What if you hate it? You know, five months is a long time if you hate it.”
Deep down I know everything will be fine. I’m going to learn a lot and meet great people. It may take a little getting used to, but studying abroad will be a great experience. I’ve heard only positive things from friends who have studied abroad. I just need to stop thinking and worrying so much and enjoy the time I have left at home.
Starting now, I’m going to stop worrying.
…but what if I forget my passport?